While fans of the New York Knicks are enjoying the NBA's longest active winning streak, they will spend Friday night with a vested interest in the possible return of Kevin Durant.
Durant may return from his latest injury when the Nets host the Boston Celtics, who are a half-game behind the Knicks in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Celtics (32-27) are tied with the Atlanta Hawks for fifth place in the East but ahead of the Miami Heat for seventh, which is the first berth in this year's play-in tournament to decide the final two seeds. The idle Knicks are fourth in the East by virtue of an eight-game winning streak.
The Nets (39-20) are chasing the Philadelphia 76ers for the top seed in the East but are also focused on getting their stars physically ready for the postseason. Among them is Durant, who is questionable with a left thigh contusion after sitting out two games.
Durant injured his thigh in Sunday's 109-107 loss at Miami and has been limited to 24 games due to missing time in the NBA's health and safety protocol, a hamstring injury and rest. He is averaging 27.3 points and the Nets are 15-9 when he plays.
On Wednesday, the Nets were down to essentially eight healthy players and took a 111-103 loss to Toronto in Tampa, Fla. Kyrie Irving scored 28 points but the Nets allowed a 31-10 run in the third when they were outscored 36-23.
"We just came out flat to start the third, just weren't tight enough defensively," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "Our guys just looked tired, couldn't make shots, open looks. They fought, they battled, they tried but just didn't have that sharpness. You could see it just wasn't as fluid and accurate as we normally are."
Besides missing Durant, Brooklyn was without James Harden (right hamstring strain), who is out indefinitely. The Nets also were without Tyler Johnson (sore right knee) and center Nicolas Claxton (health and safety protocols), who are expected to be out Friday.
While Brooklyn is 6-5 this month, the Celtics are 9-2 in their past 11 games after ending March two games under .500. After seeing a six-game winning streak stopped with Monday's six-point loss to the visiting Chicago Bulls, the Celtics posted a 99-86 home victory over the Phoenix Suns Thursday.
Kemba Walker, who has not played both ends of a back-to-back this season, tied a season high with 32 points Thursday after sitting out Monday with a non-COVID-19 illness. The Celtics tied their season best for fewest points allowed on night they got a limited shooting contribution from Jayson Tatum and were without Jaylen Brown.
Tatum posted a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 3 of 17 from the floor for the second straight game. Brown sat out with a sore left shoulder after appearing to get hurt Monday and could be out again Friday.
"I feel like I realized a couple weeks ago that there's a certain group that's so close that I guess every night, depending on who's playing, it's going to change," Tatum said of the crowded playoff race. "I guess probably in a week or so, I'll pay a little more attention to it when we get closer to that time, but it changes every day."
Besides the possible absences of Brown and Walker, the Celtics could be without Evan Fournier (health and safety protocols) and Robert Williams (sore left knee).